Tag Archives: Marvel Universe(s)

Ultimate Avengers 2 (2006)

"Alright, I'll give. Just don't review that Albert Pyun film. That's all I ask."
"Alright, I'll give. Just don't review that Albert Pyun film. That's all I ask."

Even the simplest of superhero sequels can be its own kind of hell. Sagas about superhero teams are even easier to screw up. At worst, they end up looking like an amateur plate-spinning performance at some lame high school talent show. Ultimate Avengers 2 isn’t quite that bad…but it’s verging on territory the Fantastic Four films would explore at length to their (and our) eternal detriment. For thirty minutes Ultimate Avengers 2 held me. Then it all fell apart in the act of wrapping itself up. There’s some irony in there somewhere.

Animated direct-to-DVD superhero movies have this bad habit of taking on more water than they can reasonably carry through their truncated running time. It’s an old story but I’ll tell it again: when you have seven characters with seven back stories, seven arcs with seven conclusions, and only a hundred and nine minutes to run them all…you get a disappointing sequel. Continue reading Ultimate Avengers 2 (2006)

X-Men Origins: Wolverine (2009)

The cost of DADT climbes higher every day.
The cost of DADT climbs higher every day.

I’ve never liked Wolverine for the same reason I’ve don’t like most antiheroes: most of the time, he’s an asshole. Originally created by Len Wein so Bruce Banner could have someone to punch, Wolverine went to to be (arguably) the most popular and certainly the most recognizable asshole in the X-Men’s roster…for better or worse. Without him, odds are the X-Men books wouldn’t be nearly as popular as they are, and their three-and-counting films almost certainly wouldn’t exist.

That’s why the X-Men trilogy’s attempts to soften and humanize Wolverine always felt forced to me…a little too…disingenuous. True, apart from the occasional Odious Comic Relief piece, Logan’s softer side only surfaced when he was protecting The Children or trying to get into Jean Gray’s black leather pants. Both were noble goals that nevertheless annoyed me, bored me, and pulled the whole trilogy down into their gravity well. I spent three movies wondering just who this Hugh Jackman character was and why the films were trying so hard to convince me he was Wolverine? He was too damn nice, and his accent has a bad habit of shifting southwards. So for nine years I told Hollywood, “Quit pussyfooting around and give Wolverine his own film.”

I hate it when they listen to me. Continue reading X-Men Origins: Wolverine (2009)

Ghost Rider (2007)

And who says album covers never come to life?
And who says album covers never come to life?

You’ve gotta feel sorry for Satan. Back in the nineteenth century it took a whole host of angels, armed with Flaming Rose Pedals of Love, to keep Faust’s soul out of Hell. Before he could even think of redemption, Faust’s sinning ass required the intercession of a Divine Female Figure superstar tag team composed of St. Mary of Egypt, that chick who washed Jesus’ feet in Luke 7:36-50, that Samaritan lady from John 4:3-42, and Faust’s own dead girlfriend.

That’s the kind of firepower you needed to break a deal with the devil…200 years ago. Nowadays, any asshole with a recognizable face can punch, shoot, or simply glower his way out of Hell. Even Keanu Reeves has escaped the devil’s bargain twice now, and no loss stings as hard as a loss to Ted “Theodore” Logan (just ask Satan himself). Continue reading Ghost Rider (2007)

Daredevil (2003)

"Ugh, Ben, jeeze...I can smell the Jennifer on you."
"Ugh, Ben, Jeeze...I can smell the Jennifer clinging to you. It's downright wafting!"

I hate to admit this, but there’s a sad, small part of me trapped down in the basement of my mind that wants very much to like Daredevil. But what does that whinny little bastard know? I’m in charge here, and I say the film’s a mess. It’s an interesting mess with decent color sense and the occasional flair for high drama…but so are most of the drunken artists staggering home through every major city on any given night of the week.

Really, Daredevil is a case history in everything that can go wrong with film – any film, regardless of genre. Writer/director Mark Steven Johnson tried to get this made back in 1997, but Marvel Comics’ bankruptcy, the collapse of the Batman and Superman franchises, and a widespread public disregard for superheros kept Daredevil in development hell until the turn of the millennium (or Willennium, as we said at the time). Continue reading Daredevil (2003)

X-Men (2000)

"What did you expect...a group shot full of action? Go back to your Rob Leifeld comics, you posers,"
“What did you expect…a group shot full of action? Go back to your Rob Leifeld comics then, you posers,”

Now here’s a case study in adaption, a simultaneous example of how to successfully make a comic book movie and how to cock it up even as you’re supposedly doing “right” by both your fans and your studio backers. An unqualified box office success, X-Men ignited what I’ve come to call the Silver Age of Comic Book Movies, inaugurating trends and best practices that hamstring the genre to this day, despite elevating superhero flicks up to a level of respectability they’d never previously enjoyed…save, perhaps, for about a minute and a half there, after Tim Burton’s Batman.

Batman was a filmmaker’s film by a man who’s gone on to admit he’s never read a comic book in his life. (“Which,” as Kevin Smith put it, “explains Batman.”) At least X-Men‘s Bryan Singer had the good since to claim making his “comic book” movie helped him see the light. Before this, Singer was known for one decent thriller (Unusual Suspects) and one half-decent Stephen King adaption (Apt Pupil). Seeking to do a sci-fi picture, he nonetheless turned X-Men down three times…until producer Avi Arad convinced him to actually read the damn books…and watch some of the wonderful animated series Arad brought to Fox Kids for five season’s in the 90s. Continue reading X-Men (2000)

Iron Man 2 (2010)

Rhode Island Red
Tony, sporting the Rhode Island Red

Given that Iron Man 2‘s already a Designated Hit of the Year, nothing I can say will make the least bit of impact on the film’s bottom line. I find that rather freeing, because I don’t have to pretend the film is some amazing stand-out example of its genre. It’s not bad, but it’s still a fuzzy-headed rehash of tropes that should be familiar to anyone who’s watched a superhero sequel. The Villain Hypertrophy, the mawkish sentiment, the origin of A Sidekick, the Hero striving against his Fate, trying to shore up his Legacy against Death’s inevitable encroachment while simultaneously learning how to play well with others – it’s all here. And it’s all so mind-numbingly safe I had to slap myself with a Netflix envelope just to recall why I was here. Continue reading Iron Man 2 (2010)

Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer (2007)

Bromance! 2007It’s amazing how unmemorable a film like this can be. Twenty-four hours and it vanishes from your mind like a bad dream. Oh, to wake in a world where Marvel Studios did not chose to produce Fantastic Four films in conjunction with 20th Century Fox.

At once flagrantly pandering and incoherently pretentious, Rise of the Silver Surfer is undeniably worse than its prequel. All thanks to production logic that threw aesthetics under the bus in favor of expediency and marketing tie-ins. Got to crank them out quick before the marks get wise, see? And we are getting wise, though the general mass (who still, even after all this, refuse to read comic books) continues to throw cash at whatever crap’s offered us. And so it goes. {More}

Fantastic Four (2005)

Strike a pose! It's all you're really here for.I’ll be honest with you: I never gave a toss about the Fantastic Four. I know that’s heresy to a certain number of nerds and I don’t care. Their family comradeship, good natured bickering, and overriding message of wholesomeness never sat well with me. Like Pizza Hut pizza, its initial beguiling flavor disguises stomach-churning ookiness. Leave it to Hollywood to pick out the Four’s most nausea-inducing elements and assemble them into an annoyingly bland film.

Credit where it’s due: Stan Lee and Jack Kirby revolutionized the superhero team back in the 1960s, elevating the genre to a new era of psychological realism…even as they stuffed it with  alien invasions, world-conquering dictators, and evil siblings/parents/college roommates inexplicably returned from the dead. For my money, Lee and Kirby did a much better job of dysfunctional superhero family-creation two years later, when they used what two years of churning out comics had taught them to create the original X-Men{More}

Hulk Vs. (2009)

Lionsgate Entertainment and Marvel Comics have quite the partnership going on. Hoping to tide us over between summer blockbuster seasons, the (I don’t quite feel right about calling them “dynamic”) duo of media conglomerates have put out a steady stream of direct-to-DVD cartoon features starring Marvel’s heaviest-hitting heroes. I’ve already spoken about Ultimate Avengers. The fact that I’ve seen it’s sequel, along with the animated Iron Man, and was not impressed enough to write either of them up, should tell you all you need to know about those two. You can understand why I went into tonight’s subject with a mixture of high hopes and lowered expectations.

My love for the Hulk knows few bounds, and I’ve been disappointed by most of his live-action outings. I’ll defend Ang Lee’s Hulk until the day I’m forced to save humanity from the despotic rule of my power-mad future-self, but last year’s Incredible Hulk left me cold. Desperate, I once again looked to Ultimate Avengers and the 1970s Bill Bixby/Lou Ferrigno live action show for my genuine Bruce Banner fix.

I still do. {More}

Iron Man (2008)

In another unexpectedly pleasant surprise, Iron Man turned out to be perhaps the strongest of this passing summer’s superhero movies. I say “perhaps” because, while it lacks The Dark Knight‘s length and The Incredible Hulk‘s emotional sequel-baggage, Iron Man never rises to anything other than the low-tide line of my expectations. Movies are like that these days. I’m spoiled. We’ve all become spoiled by the expectation of eye-gouging special effects. I’ve believed a man could fly all my life; seeing it no longer impresses me. Much.

This movie impressed me…but not with its showy, summer-movie action scenes. No. Instead, Iron Man outflanked me, scaling the battlements of my cold, critic’s heart by reminding me why I used to drag my ass out of bed a six a.m. on a Sunday morning to watch the Iron Man cartoon that played on the Fox affiliate of my youth. Why, in other words, I liked Iron Man in the first place. {More}